Interview – TESOL Drama founder: Marisol Santana

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In 2013 I was feeling lonely in my quest for games and drama techniques to use in the classroom, and so I started looking for people who shared my passion for the subject.

This search pointed me to one of the most interesting, intelligent, creative, soulful teachers I have ever had the privilege to meet: Marisol Santana.

She is the founder of TESOL Drama and gives workshops to teachers both in the USA and in Europe on how to incorporate theatre in ELT. It was during one of these workshops in Paris that I first had the chance to learn how, not only drama games, but also theatre as a whole could be incorporated into the ELT lesson plan with great benefits.

Needless to say, we hit it off immediately and she has since been a great colleague and someone I profoundly admire.

Today we learn a little more about her and her craft, as she kindly agreed to answer a few questions to expose the processes she uses to integrate art and language learning.


ESL DRAMA QUEEN: When did you first start working with Drama as a learning medium for ELT?

Marisol Santana: After graduating from NYU’s program in Educational Theatre, I began experimenting with a TESOL certification institute and created a professional development program for teachers in 2010, which taught techniques on how to teach English through drama.

ESLDQ: Has adding Drama techniques to your classroom affected the overall learning process? How so?

MS: Using drama techniques in the classroom increases engagement in a major way. Learning a language can be quite tedious. Drama makes it interactive and fun, as it stimulates all types of learners, whether they be kinesthetic, visual, or audible learners (Howard Gardner, Theory of Multiple Intelligences). Drama stimulates confidence and risk-taking in speaking and conversation for ELL’s.

ESLDQ: One of the most voiced concerns about integrating Drama and the traditional language classroom is that students may not accept participating in some activities. How is it with your groups?

MS: There are many drama activities that can be modified for students may be shy or inexperienced in drama. I have found that the more shy students are still willing to write scenes and engage in simple role plays. It takes time, but a teacher who uses drama can increase dramatic practice slowly, as students become more comfortable with using some of the less performance based drama techniques, they are then more willing to participate more and more as a safe ensemble with their peers is established.

ESLDQ: What other challenges have you faced regarding planning, teaching or assessing in your Drama ELT class and how did you go about them?

MS: Assessment is always a challenge in drama, because I like to give high grades to all who are participating. My biggest challenge in adult ESL has been the inconsistancy in attendence. Integrating drama into the classroom is very effective, but with an inconsistancy in attendance, it is hard to scafforld and have longer term drama unit plans. If attendance is mandatory , say in an elementary or secondary school, these challenges become less and many possibilities for longer drama unit plans can be prepared and implemented successfully.

ESLDQ: What would you suggest a teacher who is just starting to input Drama techniques in ELT?

MS: I would suggest that the teacher start out slow, and let her students experience how fun some dramatic activities can be. Once they get a taste of them, they will be hooked! The teacher may want to start with writing simple dialogues and collaborative readings using new vocabulary or grammar.

ESLDQ: Finally, what message would you leave teachers who are unsure to use Drama in their classrooms? 

MS: I would say:  Try it- you will be amazed with how drama enlivens the class! Even with one simple drama game, you will stimulate energy and engagement instantly! Language learning should be fun, and incorporating drama and the arts is probably the most organic and easy way to make that happen!



Marisol Santana (Tirelli) has performed in various venues in Los Angeles and New York City for the past twenty years. She has taught and developed curriculum in drama, voice, and ESL for grades K-12 as well as at the college level. Marisol is a graduate of Pepperdine University, with a BA degree in Theatre Arts/Acting, where she also studied opera with the Mozartum, in Florence, Italy. She is a graduate of NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education with a Masters degree in Educational Theatre. In 2011, her play Fashion the Musical won Best Overall Musical for the West Village Musical Theatre Festival. Marisol is the founder of TESOL Drama and the TESOL International Film and Art Exhibit that produces “Teaching-Artist Salon” professional development workshops and exhibits in New York City, Paris, and Los Angeles. She is a doctoral candidate in Art and Art Education at Teachers College – Columbia University while she continues to teach and develop her multidisciplinary approach to art-making and education.

For more about Marisol and TESOL Drama:

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